The march of the Libertarian Party of Russia is a marathon, not a sprint
Our ex-President, Vera Kichanova, recently spoke to AVANCE de la Libertad about the state of the Libertarian Party of Russia for AVANCE's inaugural issue. We're very grateful to Vera and AVANCE for allowing us permission to translate and republish the interview in English from its original Spanish!
AVANCE de la Libertad is a brilliant magazine edited by the Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad, an organisation promoting the principles of liberty in Spain. You can follow the Fundación on Facebook here and on Twitter here.
AVANCE spoke to the esteemed Russian libertarian activist Vera Kichanova, exiled in London for several years. Vera was the first libertarian councillor in Russia, and one of the Libertarian Party of Russia's early leaders. The party is now led by Sergey Boyko.
How do you see the Libertarian Party of Russia?
Since its foundation in 2008, it has evolved to become the country´s strongest opposition force, with branches in more than fifty regions across Russia. And all this in a country where one can be gaoled over a tweet!
Are Russians open to libertarian ideas? Is it a matter of time?
In general, it is easier to promote libertarian ideas in countries that have suffered socialism, such as Eastern Europe or Latin America. It is simpler to promote libertarian ideas where people distrust the State, perceive it as a threat and do not expect anything good to come from it. In Russia, as the crisis worsens, more and more people become anarchists in their hearts and do not want the State's help. They have never seen the State be the slightest help: they want the State to leave them in peace.
But on the other hand, yes, it is also a question of time. The Libertarian Party's mass membership is derived from those who were born when Putin was already in the Kremlin. They have known no other government, but they understand how abnormal the Russian situation is in the twenty-first century. They have the advantage of being sufficiently immune to the official propaganda since they do not watch television. The State tries to control the Internet but finds it technically difficult.
After the mass protests of several years ago, the State banned Telegram, an instant messaging platform founded by a young entrepreneur who had to go into exile. Although Parliament passed the anti-Telegram law, everyone still uses Telegram because the State is incapable of effectively enforcing the prohibition. So Russian digital natives see the State as not only malevolent but also incompetent. And that's how you become a libertarian!
Since your departure, has freedom improved or worsened in Russia?
At the level of personal liberties, it has certainly worsened. The point of no return was probably the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Afterwards, most of the independent media were crushed; journalists and civil rights activists were forced to emigrate. The official propaganda machine has reached the aggressiveness and omnipresence that it enjoyed in the USSR. Peaceful demonstrations and blogging have become risky activities. In my time as an activist, despite having been arrested on six occasions, the worst that I ever had to endure was a fine. Today, it is easy to end up in prison.
But, at the same time, civil society has learned a lot. The level of contemporary activism is unprecedented, from YouTube channels to independent journalist investigative teams and human rights activists, all financed through crowdfunding. And something is changing. When I was elected city councillor in Moscow in 2012, it was exceptional that an opposition party could succeed. Today, half of the seats are won by independents. The growth of the Libertarian Party is another exhibit of this positive evolution.
Do you dare to make any predictions for the future?
Putin has decided to stay in power forever, but his popularity has dropped to historical lows. It is difficult to make predictions, but we have reason to be optimistic in the long run. In the Libertarian Party, we know that our race is a marathon, not a sprint.
Vera Kichanova is a former President of the Oxford Hayek Society. In the 2012 Moscow municipal council elections, she was the first member of the Libertarian Party of Russia to be elected to public office. She is presently a PhD candidate in public policy at King´s College London and a researcher at Zaha Hadid Architects.
The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author, and not necessarily of the Oxford Hayek Society. A version of this article originally appeared in AVANCE de la Libertad. We are grateful to Vera and AVANCE for allowing us to republish this article from its original Spanish.